Today I offer a challenge and a treat. Go to Mencken's Cultured Pearl on Hollins Street and eat a burrito. But that's not the challenge; that's the treat. The challenge is to look at Martha Drew Gatewood's work of art, the one titled, "Aliens Go Bowling In Utah and Find True Love," and give me, in 100 words or less, your interpretation of it.
Go ahead, I dare ya. Tell me what each element of this bizarre wall piece signifies and what, taken as a whole, it all means. After I hear from you, I'm going to talk it over with Martha and try to determine what she was thinking when she executed it. Martha calls her stuff "obstinately senseless paintings."
The owner of the sponsoring cafe, Teddy Getzel, calls them "neo-surreal." But that shouldn't discourage you. It should challenge you. I challenged Teddy to declare his favorite among the Gatewoods currently hanging in the cafe.
"I'm prejudiced," he said. "I like fish, so I like the lady in bed with the sturgeon." (He was referring to a painting titled, "Fish Therapy In Arkansas.") Other works include: "Elvistein," the King patched together by a mad scientist; "The Heroic Fish Truck Over A Foggy Harbor" and "Harmon The Pig-Dog Terrorizes The Tavern," which is every barmaid's nightmare. What do you get for answering my challenge with insight and imagination? Maybe we meet over a burrito at the Pearl. Maybe Martha uses you as a model for her next act of senselessness.
Trash along the trail
Men who hunt deer with bows are said to represent a higher form of human, more sporting than their firearm-packing brethren, because they slay the white-tail the old-fashioned way. Perhaps. And perhaps it's unfair to mention it, but even bow-hunters are capable of making a mess of the earth during the killing season.
The current bow season for white tails commenced Sept. 15 and, within a few days, friends who hike the pine woods around Prettyboy Reservoir came across a disgusting sight. Some noble Nimrod had dressed a deer along the trail and left everything he didn't want -- a large pile of viscera covered with blue-and-green flies.
Hunters aren't the only slobs in the forest. Fishermen leave trash along the trails, the shorelines, on the big rocks. A friend who frequently hikes through the area says: "There should be a computer bar-code on every Styrofoam night crawler container sold in every convenience store in the state. That way, we could trace these idiots who leave them in the reservoir. . . . I found big piles of monofilament the other day, and that stuff is terrible if it gets wrapped around wildlife. Some guys had gone in there and tied [fishing] lines to the limbs of trees and left them in the water with baited hooks. I found a small dump of stuff -- cans, Little Debbie wrappers, potato chip bags, and night-crawler containers. These young guys drive here in spotless $30,000 trucks, spend the day and leave a mess. It's city property out here. They ought to have a [police] sweep and really slap these guys with some fines." Or just slap 'em with our hands.
Surrender to bulldozers
Use them or lose them, the mayor of Baltimore is telling absentee landlords. Fix up your empty and boarded-up rowhouses or the city will raze them.
There are now 7,800 vacant houses in the city; the city has liens against many of them. But the bulk are in the hands of private owners who refuse to do anything with them. They think -- and who can argue against them? -- that further investment in inner-city housing is foolish. What a waste it all is, too.
Fly high over the Baltimore metropolitan region and look down; you'll see rows and clusters of empty houses while, beyond the )) 'burbs, more and more farmland is converted into housing developments. Something's profoundly wrong with this picture. It shows how polarized, racially and socially, this metropolitan area is. Too many forces work against the sound idea of recycling older urban and suburban areas instead of developing open space. The city doesn't have the money to convert these empty houses into homes -- once upon a time there was a good federal program to do just that -- so let's bring in the bulldozers. The mayor's idea is forceful. But it means surrender. What a waste.
Note to remember
Remember Tony Ranocchia?
He's the 8-year-old who left his wallet in the fitting room at a Montgomery Ward, and some louse swiped it. Tony had $18 in the wallet, birthday money he was saving for a sweat-suit. About a zillion people called here offering to replace the money, the wallet, the sweat-suit.
Beryl Rosenstein, Tony's doctor at the Cystic Fibrosis Clinic at Johns Hopkins Children's Center, and Debbie Bangledorf, from Hopkins' Office of Public Affairs, arranged for Tony to get a new sweat-suit. The clinic picked up the tab. I thought you'd like to see Tony's thank-you note.